Chris Brogan initiated a conversation about what clients should expect from a social media expert. I guarantee you that 100% of the people who read and/or responded to the post think of themselves as experts. I know I do.
In discussions about Facebook or Twitter or whatever, I keep finding myself saying “Don’t put too much stock in any of these specific applications. They’re all transitional.” Like your kids’ clothes, they’re great now, but will be outgrown too soon.
Face it, the Internet is a toddler, about a three-year-old. And Web 2 is its Head Start program. The Internet has a lot to learn about communicating with the society around it.
Of course, the Internet isn’t something out there in the product landscape. Users are the Internet. I am, you are, companies are, governments are, NGOs and non-profits, rock bands, tattoo shops, cafes. That’s the Internet, and it’s just getting to the point where it’s effectively combining communication skills and social skills. A three-year-old.
Consider, then, the effect on commerce and industry of the Internet’s first two phases:
- infancy (web 0)
- crawling (web 1)
Internet is short for inter-networked computers. A network of networks, as in the network in your office right now. That network is connected to other networks and so forth in what you might call a world-wide web of inter-networking.
So before the Internet, there were just regular old computer networks, and they brought a revolutionary wave of efficiency through individual companies. Each company that deployed a computer network saved time and money that far outweighed the cost of deployment. That’s why virtually 100% of companies have computer networks.
The simple power of automated calculation and a virtual document storage (aggregation) regime that allowed multiple users to access the same document completely changed what was a profitable activity and what was not. This was the revolution of the Computer Age.
The advent of the Internet brought a new wave of revolutionary efficiencies to commerce, but this time at the industry level. Publishing, travel, real estate, car buying, employment, entertainment. All of these industries were radically transformed by the Internet. And often to the detriment of existing players.
Some efficiencies came through the delivery of company-level software over the Internet. But most of the changes were classic market efficiencies. By aggregating interested parties regardless of geography, the Internet created whole new markets and, in fact, a new economy.
So now the Internet is social. Already, it has had an enormous effect on the way people connect and interact. It is just WAY more easy to find and communicate with anybody anywhere. Someone I haven’t talked to in probably 30 years sent me an email the other day. It took him only a few minutes to find me. Ten years ago it would have taken hours. 20 years ago it would have been impossible.
But, at the company level and commercially in general, Web 2 has had virtually zero effect. For every Facebook or MySpace, there are 10,000 bloggers asking “How do I monetize this?”
That’s entirely the wrong question. The question is: What can this do for enterprise?
The short answer: everything.
The Long Answer
The short version of the long answer is that Web 2 gives enterprise the opportunity to put the wetware onto the hardware.
This is your brain. This is your brain on a server.
In the same way that Web 0 let companies aggregate documents in a shared environment, social computing lets organizations aggregate human knowledge in a shared and, better than that, collaborative environment. When the act of creating a ‘knowledge set’ is itself collaborative, it produces more fully vetted information AND it strengthens the critical offline connections that exist within, without and between organizations.
Blogging is huge right about now and will probably continue to grow its influence in the broader media/communications landscape. For many, even most companies, it will become a critical part of their communications mix. And 100% of online newspapers/news sites will (eventually) become blogs.
Social networks are an enterprise no-brainer. It should be no surprise that Xerox and IBM are leaders in that area. IBM seriously missed the boat on a little industry we like to call Software. (Sure, Bill, you can have the operating system, whatever THAT is.) If you’re too young to remember, Xerox invented the graphical user interface and that thing in your right hand. No. I mean the mouse. (Sure, Steve, you can have this whole point-and-click thing, but who’s gonna put a computer in their home?)
I’m pretty sure neither will be missing the next revolution.
Discussion forums have been the go-to app for customer support in the software industry for 20+ years because they are fast, cheap and effective. Every other industry in the world, where the hell are you?
But wikis, in my not-at-all-humble opinion, offer the most upside to the most organizations. In my little Web 2 class, I call wikis “ISO-9000 in a box.” If everybody in your company documented everything they did over the course of a day, how much of your operation would that cover? A lot.
Those data will never be forgotten, never get slightly convoluted or critical steps dropped. In fact, the veracity of the data would improve over time. Don’t think that editing only occurs when a knowledgeable user changes or adds text or images. Editing occurs whenever a knowledgeable user reads and tacitly approves the text and images. By NOT editing the text, they give their approval.
What project wouldn’t be easier to manage with a wiki than emailing Word documents? What process is so complex, it cannot be expressed with an infinitely scalable and endlessly flexible architecture? What instructions are so simple, there’s no point in writing them down?
On Chris Brogan’s blog, there was robust and constructive discussion of what constitutes expertise. Some commenters - and they seem to be from the ad agency side of the world - say things like “social media is a fad.” Social media, maybe.
But social computing? No way. I boldly predict that neither computers nor society will disappear this century.